By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–The Alabama House of Representatives passed the Education budget late in the session on Wednesday by a margin of 96 to 4. The budget had already passed in the Senate. The General Fund Budget, the Court Cost bill, and the Constitutional Amendment (SB147) which would plug the shortfall in the General Fund Budget also passed in the closing 120 minutes of the legislative session.
Representative Jay Love (R) said that the Education Budget will not cut any teacher’s jobs. The legislature managed that feat by moving funding of the CHIP program and the Department of Youth Services from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund.
Rep. Jim Patterson (R) from Meridianville said on Facebook, “The new Education budget has no teacher cuts even with fewer students. We love our teachers and this is very good news. Also budgeted $300 for class room supplies for each teacher. With the new jobs coming to Alabama I believe next years ETF will be a lot better. Teachers the best is yet to come. Good management of state funds will lead to much needed school improvements.”
The whole General Fund Budget is contingent on the voters passing a constitutional amendment in a special referendum on September 18th. That proposal (SB147) will make $175 million available from the Alabama Trust Fund for the General Fund to fully fund Medicaid and the Corrections Department.
Rep. Joe Hubbard (D) from Montgomery asked said, “If the Constitutional Amendment does not pass (a vote of the public) what do we do then?
Rep. Jim Barton (R) from Mobile said, “If the constitutional amendment does not pass we will be back here I presume in special session.”
Rep. Joe Hubbard asked if his proposed cigarette tax would be on the agenda then, and Rep. Barton said that it would be one option.
SB147 which is the bill that established the amendment to raise the extra money by tapping the oil and gas royalties that go to the Alabama Trust Fund passed the House easily.
If the voters agree to the amendment in a September 18th special referendum, Alabama Medicaid will receive $603 million and $365 million will go to the Alabama Department of Corrections in fiscal year 2013 which begins on October 1.
The General fund also received additional funds from the passage of SB 688 which increased court costs throughout the state of Alabama.
Rep. Alvin Holmes (D) from Montgomery objected to the increase in Court Costs in the budget said, “I don’t want to balance the budget on the backs of black people.” Rep. Holmes claimed that “96%” of the people in the court system are Black. (editorial note – we suspect the Representative’s percentage is likely an exaggeration). Rep. A. Holmes said that he would support having a lottery and earmarking 25% of the money towards court costs. Rep. Holmes objected to Judges and Circuit Clerks being in the House gallery during the vote and accused them of texting legislators on the floor. “You don’t see nobody from my district sitting in the balcony they are not here trying to get a handout from the state.” “I don’t want to kill the General Fund Budget.”
The Republicans in the House then introduced a cloture vote at 11:15 pm to force a vote on the General Fund budget.
Rep. Darrio Melton (D) from Selma said that we had too many people incarcerated in this state and that there were budget savings that could be achieved from decreasing the number of prisoners.
Rep. Joe Knight (D) from Montgomery demanded that the general fund budget be read out loud in its entirety. Speaker Hubbard (R) from Auburn said that the budget had already been read three times and it was unnecessary to read it again.
Rep. Jim Barton who is chairman of the committee which prepares the General Fund said “We need to pass the budget” “It is a decent budget I apologize for putting this body in this position.” Rep. Barton said that nobody in the House was responsible for the budget coming up in the last two hours of the last day of the session and blamed the Senate for the necessity of passing two budgets and to revenue bills in the last two hours of the legislative session.
The House passed the General Fund budget, then had to invoke cloture again to end debate and force a vote on HB688 the bill which raised court costs and fees. The state’s portion of court costs increased $45 for civil court, $40 for criminal court, $26 for traffic court, and $15 for small claims court. If the charge originates in a municipal court $10 of the $26 for the traffic court increase goes to the municipal court. $2 of the $26 increase in traffic court fees will go to the police officers annuity fund. This vote occurred in the last ten minutes of the legislative session.
Sen. Tom Whatley’s bill which would have made the Auburn Board of Trustees a self perpetuating board died during debate on the floor of the House by law when the clock struck midnight. Also at midnight the House received word that Gov. Bentley had called a special session beginning Thursday at 9:00 to deal with reapportionment.